Everything You Wanted to Know About Educator Micro-credentials: Getting Technical

Part Two of a Three-Part Series
Blog Post
Feb. 2, 2022

This blog post is the second in a three-part series developed to demystify educator micro-credentials and address common questions and misconceptions.

As 2021 was wrapping up, the Hunt Institute kicked off a webinar series focused on educator micro-credentials, in partnership with digiLEARN. As my fellow panelists and I answered questions from the audience about micro-credentials during the first and second of these webinars, it became clear that the field needs more clarity about using this tool to recruit, develop, and retain a strong and diverse set of educators.

Below are answers to five questions that provide a deeper, and more technical understanding of how micro-credentials work and how to leverage them to strengthen the educator workforce.

Q1: Who offers micro-credentials, and is there a central repository for educators and leaders to source the full catalog of available micro-credentials?

Micro-credential providers include non-profit organizations, for-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, as well as state and local education agencies. Currently there is not a single source where one can review the multitude of micro-credentials offered. Each of the three largest micro-credential platforms (Bloomboard, Digital Promise, and the National Education Association) has its own catalog. The National Education Association (NEA) and Digital Promise provide “open access” to their micro-credentials so anyone can view the topic, the content, and the evidence requirements. The National Education Association (NEA) offers a scannable online “certification bank” that provides a sense of the variety and content of the micro-credentials they offer, while Digital Promise offers an electronic database of its micro-credentials where users can search by the micro-credential topic and/or the issuer of the credential. Bloomboard’s website provides examples of several micro-credentials it offers, but its catalog is available only to states and districts interested in becoming a paid subscriber (see more on costs in Q4 below).

Q2: Is there an industry standard for educator micro-credentials, and if so, what entity(s) developed these standards and/or provide oversight of quality?

Ensuring quality is at the heart of whether micro-credentials become the “game-changer” for educator professional learning and advancement that many stakeholders believe it can be. Educators and employers must trust the “signal” that earning a micro-credential offers in order to see value in earning it. So before states and districts consider moves to recognize and reward educators for earning micro-credentials, they must ensure their offerings are of consistent and sufficient quality.

At present, there are over 1000 micro-credentials available to educators, with varying requirements and level of rigor, depending on the vendor or issuer’s own standards and quality control processes. In 2019, the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO) convened a group of stakeholders which developed a set of principles to promote quality in the design, assessment, and implementation of educator micro-credentials. However, these principles are still rather high-level, and not all micro-credential providers’ current offerings meet even these standards. To build on CCSSO’s efforts to provide guidance to the field, New America published a report in 2021, “Harnessing Micro-credentials for Teacher Growth: A National Review of Early Best Practices,” that outlines a more detailed set of best practices for states to ensure educator micro-credential quality.

Q3: When can educators begin a micro-credential and how long does it take to earn one?

Two of the things educators appreciate about micro-credentials is that they are asynchronous (i.e., they can be started whenever is most useful or convenient for the user) and that the timeframe for completing a micro-credential is flexible (although most micro-credential providers want candidates to complete an individual micro-credential within six months of initiating it).

How long an individual educator ultimately takes to earn a microcredential depends on several factors, including:1) the baseline knowledge and skill the candidate has in the specific competency, 2) how much time they devote to engaging in any necessary pre-learning, and 3) how long it takes them to complete and submit the required evidence for assessment. So an educator who is well-versed in the micro-credential competency and has a full day they can commit to working on it each week may be able to complete a micro-credential in a few weeks, while an educator who is new to the topic and has only an hour a week to work on it may take several months to complete it. Our research finds that whether educators have regular, dedicated time to work on micro-credentials is one of the greatest factors determining whether they successfully earn a micro-credential, and within what timeframe.

Q4: Is there a cost to teachers to earn a micro-credential, and do they think it’s worth it?

As with seemingly all aspects of micro-credentials, various pricing models exist. Some micro-credentials are free or low-cost to earn, either because they are covered or subsidized by a philanthropic organization, or because they are covered through a school or district’s available professional learning funding. Other micro-credentials have a cost to teachers, which might be as little as $20, or as much as $200, depending on the provider. Some providers (e.g. Digital Promise and NEA) allow educators to view their micro-credential materials for free, and only require payment when the individual seeks to have their materials assessed toward earning the MC. Bloomboard creates contracts with states or districts to offer one or more micro-credentials to a defined teacher population.

Feedback from teachers who have engaged with high-quality micro-credentials indicates that there are significant “pros” to the approach: they offer greater personalization and choice (both in terms of content and in terms of when teachers engage in the experience) and are more likely to have an impact on their practice and student learning. On the “cons” side, teachers often find micro-credentials more difficult to successfully complete, due to requiring more time and effort than most typical professional development experiences and to requiring a greater level of self-motivation. This feedback dovetails with reviews of competency-based education at the higher education level.

But some survey data highlight teachers’ general perceptions about the value of engaging in micro-credentials. Washington State’s Professional Educator Standards Board asked educators participating in its micro-credentials pilot to respond to an exit survey that included the statements: “Working on my micro-credential submission has had a positive impact on my practice as an educator,” “Working on my micro-credential submission has had a positive impact on my students,” and “I would be open to working on another micro-credential in the future.” Educators gave an average response of 3.9 out of five for each of the three questions, where 1 indicated “strongly disagree” and 5 indicated “strongly agree.” Another survey by NC State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation found that 97 percent of respondents who had completed at least one micro-credential offered by the Institute indicated they wanted to pursue more in the future.

However, the Friday Institute also found that educator perceptions of micro-credentials’ value, and their eventual success in earning them, is tempered by the relative ease and convenience of their experience. In particular, it is crucial to ensure the digital platform used to submit artifacts and other evidence for assessment has an easy-to-navigate, intuitive technological interface. Educators also see greater value in earning micro-credentials when doing so allows them to fulfill local or state professional development requirements, and/or comes with increased compensation. Several states have tried to roll out micro-credentials without a clear connection to other human capital policies and found that they had difficulty engaging educators, who viewed them as not worth the time and energy required.

Q5: Who keeps track of who has completed and earned a micro-credential?

Different vendors utilize different technology platforms to offer their micro-credentials, so an educator who engages in micro-credentials across various vendors must keep a record of their own micro-credentials. But when a set of micro-credentials are developed and/or adopted system-wide within a local education agency, state, etc., it provides an opportunity for more central record keeping. One of the core elements of a micro-credential is that it includes a digital record of its earning, sometimes referred to as a “digital badge,” that can be shared by the earner on platforms like Credly or Accredible. IMS Global has been working to develop a “comprehensive learner record” (CLR) that would help capture more details about the specific micro-credentials someone earns, such as the actual artifacts that individuals submitted for assessment. This type of CLR would allow teachers to collect and share all of their professional achievements in one place, and would allow hiring managers to dig deeper into the content and quality of the micro-credential and the evidence produced to earn it. While this topic is a bit more technical in nature than New America’s typical area of research, it is critical to implementation and so we continue to monitor as it evolves.

Have more questions about educator micro-credentials? Check out the first blog post in this series, and come back to EdCentral soon to see the final installment answering key questions about policy and implementation for educator micro-credentials.

In the meantime, take a look at the resources available in New America’s Educator Micro-credentials Collection, including our report providing a comprehensive national review of best practices for teacher micro-credentials, and its companion model state policy guide.

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Competency Based Education Teachers and Leaders Innovation in Education Credentialing